Three represent UOG at international coastal sciences conference

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A team from the University of Guam attends the 2023 Coastal & Estuarine Research Federation Conference (CERF) from November 12 - 16, 2023, in Portland, Oregon.  (From top left) Sarai Vega, Dr. Cheryl Sangueza, Anna Aguirre, Anthony Ritter, Tonya McDaniel, Lynn Galang, and Anela Duenas
A team from the University of Guam attends the 2023 Coastal & Estuarine Research Federation Conference (CERF) from November 12 – 16, 2023, in Portland, Oregon. (From top left) Sarai Vega, Dr. Cheryl Sangueza, Anna Aguirre, Anthony Ritter, Tonya McDaniel, Lynn Galang, and Anela Duenas
During the event, UOG students had the opportunity to interact with peers, network with scientists within their fields, and attend workshops and panel discussions.       This year’s delegation included Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistants Anela Duenas and Sarai Vega as well as Lynn Galang, a 2022 undergraduate student researcher.
During the event, UOG students had the opportunity to interact with peers, network with scientists within their fields, and attend workshops and panel discussions. This year’s delegation included Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistants Anela Duenas and Sarai Vega as well as Lynn Galang, a 2022 undergraduate student researcher.

Three student researchers from the University of Guam attended the 2023 Coastal & Estuarine Research Federation Conference (CERF), which was held from November 12 – 16, 2023, in Portland, Oregon.  

The conference is a biennial international meeting of coastal and estuarine scientists and managers that aims to advance the understanding and stewardship of these ecosystems worldwide.  

This year’s conference theme was “Resilience and Recovery,” which was chosen to reflect not only the scientific context of those terms but also the resilience of CERF’s community members through the COVID-19 pandemic.  

During the event, students had the opportunity to interact with peers, network with scientists within their fields, and attend workshops and panel discussions.  

This year’s delegation included Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistants Anela Duenas and Sarai Vega as well as Lynn Galang, a 2022 undergraduate student researcher.  

During the conference, Duenas presented her research poster entitled, “Ecophysiology of reef flat coral species replacement in the Mariana Islands.” Her study focused on analyzing endosymbiont communities within stony corals such as Acropora pulchra and Pavona decussata to gather insight about their role in coral resilience.  

“My CERF 2023 experience was amazing! I felt so inspired by all the research and people I met. I especially loved the CERF Conference because it was not too big of a conference where you could feel lost and out of place. Instead, the conference felt warm and welcoming like catching up with old friends,” said Duenas.  

Galang’s presentation was titled “Taxonomic and Genetic Diversity of the Corallivorous Snail, Drupella spp., on Guam.” Her study focused on determining what species of coral-eating snails are present on Guam to better inform coral management practices.  

For her poster presentation entitled, “A seasonal study of meiofauna distribution in Pago Bay, Guam,” Vega explored the world of meiofauna — invertebrates that live in marine and freshwater environments between sand and mud on the seafloor and riverbeds. Copepods, flatworms, and nematodes fall under meiofauna.  Vega’s study focused on how environmental changes affect meiobenthic communities

In a session called “Stories from the Braided River: Nonlinear, Enriching Workforce Pathways and Narratives in Coastal Science and Management,” Vega also delivered a presentation about her journey to graduate school in a session entitled, “How many turns does it take? My path to graduate school and beyond.”  

Vega’s oral presentation detailed the challenges and successes she faced navigating higher education as an international student, changing her major and choice of career, as well as working while taking classes.  

“I learned that when I have doubts in my abilities by taking a hold in the confidence other people have in me, I am able to make the first step,” said Vega. “It’s not “fake it till you make it” – it’s a lot better than that. It’s knowing that you have the support of your ancestors, generations behind you who have worked hard for us to get to where we are. It’s knowing that no matter what, my value as someone in science goes beyond what I can or cannot do. It’s understanding that in a safe environment, learning is bound to take place. “ 

Two graduate research assistants defend theses

2023 Thesis Defense MacKenzie Heagy

Two Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research assistants closed out their time with the program by defending their master’s theses.  

MacKenzie Heagy, a graduate in the University of Guam’s master of science in biology program, defended her master’s thesis on Tuesday, November 28, 2023 at the UOG Marine Laboratory.  

Her thesis was titled, “Diversity and biogeography of the Mastophoraceae in the Mariana Islands.”  

Mastophoraceae is a family of crustose calcifying red algae. Representatives of this family are widespread throughout the Indo-Pacific and are particularly abundant on tropical reefs. 

As part of her study, Heagy collected samples off the coast of Guam, Saipan, and Rota from various habitats such as surf benches, algal bridges, and reef flats. Over the course of her project, around 300 presumed mastophoroid specimens were collected – including seven new species.  

Her advisor was Tom Schils, Ph.D., a UOG professor of marine biology. Heagy’s committee consisted of Bastian Bentlage, Ph.D., the co-principal of Guam NSF EPSCoR and Gavin Maneveldt, Ph.D, a professor of marine biology and biodiversity studies from the University of the Western Cape.  

In addition, Grace McDermott, a graduate biology student at UOG, virtually defended her master’s thesis entitled, “Intraspecific color variation in Porites cylindrica: the role of color variation in coral resilience,” on Monday, December 1, 2023.  

McDermott collected samples of Porites cylindrica, a species of stony coral, from Luminao, Piti East, and Tumon to compare how their brown and yellow color morphs responded to disease and bleaching conditions.  

Her advisor was UOG Marine Laboratory Director Laurie Raymundo, Ph.D.  McDermott’s committee consisted of Raymundo, Bentlage, and Héloïse Louise Rouzé, Ph.D., a senior research associate from UOG.  

University of Guam researchers develop new way of analyzing coral-associated microalgae

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Researchers from the University of Guam have published a study in the journal PLoS ONE detailing a new method for analyzing Symbiodiniaceae, a type of microalgae vital to coral reef health. According to the paper, published in September, this procedure allows scientists to receive data within one day compared to other methods that are either expensive, take months to process, or lack resolution.  

Symbiodiniaceae is a family of marine microalgae known for their symbiotic relationships with reef-building corals, giant clams, jellyfish, and other marine invertebrates. Understanding Symbiodiniaceae is crucial to those working to protect and restore coral reefs that are under threat around the world due to climate change.  

According to the article, many techniques used to analyze Symbiodiniaceae are often low resolution, expensive, and inaccessible to researchers.    

To address this issue, two research associates from the UOG Marine Laboratory developed a protocol that collects information on cell shape, size, and photopigments for thousands of Symbiodiniaceae cells in just a few minutes.  

“We basically showed that you can use flow cytometry to better understand coral-associated algae,” said lead author Colin Anthony, a former Guam NSF EPSCoR graduate research assistant. “Using this method, you remove the algal cells from within the coral tissue, process them with the flow cytometer which hits them with a bunch of lasers, and then you get an idea of the state of the algae and its ability to acclimate or adapt to environmental conditions.”  

Flow cytometry is a technique that uses lasers to detect and measure the physical and chemical characteristics of a population of cells. This technology is typically used in drug testing and cancer research.  

“It’s a pretty widely accepted technique,” said co-author Colin Lock. “Within the coral world, flow cytometry is hugely underutilized. Regarding algae, what we’re finding out is that there are different species with different tolerances, so you can look at the shifts between species within a coral host.”  

Anthony developed this new method while pursuing his graduate degree at UOG.  

“When I started my master’s in 2020, I thought I was going to look at the biodiversity of Symbiodiniaceae,” said Anthony. “I later realized that there were all these other aspects of flow cytometry that people don’t really acknowledge or understand in the coral community.”  

While the technique mentioned in the paper is designed for corals, Anthony said that with slight modification, it can be used for any organism that contains endosymbiotic algae such as upside-down jellyfish as well as any free-living ocean algae.  

Because this method produces such a high output of data in a significantly shorter amount of time compared to other procedures, both Anthony and Lock hope that other scientists within their field start using this technique.  

“It’s a lot of work to come up with a new method because there’s so much troubleshooting involved with its development,” said Lock. “This can be used to examine responses in a lot of different organisms, and we just hope that people adopt it and start integrating it into their work.”  

Guam NSF EPScoR installs new Micro-CT scanner

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Guam NSF EPSCoR has installed a new Micro-Computer Tomography (CT) scanner at the University of Guam—making the university one of the few educational institutions within the Asia-Pacific region equipped with an instrument of this caliber.  

The acquisition of this instrument was made possible by the support of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) under Grant Number OIA-1946352.  

Similar to those used in hospitals, a Micro-CT scanner offers a non-invasive way of studying organisms by taking X-ray images of a specimen from various angles and combining them to create three-dimensional images.  

The scanner, which was installed in August 2023, will be used for projects associated with the Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium for Corals and Oceans (GECCO) Biorepository, a physical and cyber natural history collection operated by Guam NSF EPSCoR that holds records and images of marine organisms found throughout the Pacific and other locales.   

 

Using the scanner, researchers can visualize the inner structures of various organisms such as corals, sponges, mollusks, shrimp, or fish. Scans of different specimens can provide a deeper understanding of marine life in the Marianas and the region by offering valuable insight into internal anatomy and how species differ from one another.   

“You can couple that information with the information about the ecology of the organism and their genetic relationships. By doing that, you can build a much stronger understanding of the biodiversity in this region,” said Guam NSF EPSCoR Principal Investigator and Project Director Terry Donaldson, Ph.D. 

 

Building capacity  

Staff from the GECCO Biorepository trained from Aug. 28 – 30 to familiarize themselves with the scanner. During the sessions, they learned how to prepare specimens for a scan, reconstruct the created files, and process the data.  

“One of our goals regarding the scanner is training more people on how to use it. We want to increase capacity and teach students and researchers how to make the most of this machine,” said Diego Vaz, Ph.D., associate curator of the GECCO Biorepository. 

 

Promoting growth 

The scanner will enhance collaborative activity, promoting growth in marine taxonomy, ecology, and other fields of research.  

“Having the scanner is going to open a lot of doors for what we can do here. We’re excited to have this instrument because it increases our footprint,” said Donaldson. “The installation of the scanner in a facility directly adjacent to a coral reef ecosystem allows for the creation of a Micro-CT Research Node that will draw researchers from all over the region, and indeed, the world, to utilize the instrument in a unique setting. The Marine Laboratory and the University of Guam will become much more visible, and more and more researchers will want to work with us which means collaborations, publications, and the advancement of science.”  

New Student Researchers Complete Guam NSF EPSCoR 2023 Student Research Experience Program

Anna Mallari

Guam NSF EPSCoR is excited to celebrate five undergraduate students from the University of Guam for completing their term with the 2023 Student Research Experience, which provides research opportunities and mentorship to selected students for a year.  

As part of their research training, these students conducted field work to investigate coral reefs and learned skills such as DNA extraction and sequencing.  

This year, the program’s student researchers engaged in a variety of fields such as coral genomics, marine microbiology, marine ecophysiology, and more. 

 

ANNA MALLARI

Anna Mallari is a civil engineering student who, under the mentorship of Dr. Bastian Bentlage, studied microbial communities in the soils within the La Sa Fua Watershed in southern Guam. 

“I believe that learning goes beyond the classroom setting, as it involves not only understanding theories and concepts but also applying them to solve real-world problems,” Mallari said. “Having the opportunity to conduct research that could contribute to our island’s sustainability is such a rewarding feeling.”  

Mallari said that engaging in a research experience as an undergraduate was a privilege for her and that she found conducting research outside of the field of engineering a welcome challenge.  

During her time in the program, Mallari was one of two UOG students who researched how to convert seawater into renewable energy as part of a summer program held at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.  

 

MERRY ANN OCAMPO  

Integrative biology major Merry Ann Ocampo said that the Guam NSF EPSCoR SRE program has not only opened up research opportunities for her, but the chance to connect with the community.  

“As much as I enjoy my research, sharing it with the community is the best part because I get to interact with others about my new findings and my experience in being a student researcher,” said Ocampo. “Seeing others interested in my research makes me really happy and reminds me why I love science and research.”  

Under the mentorship of Christopher Lobban, Ph.D., Ocampo studied the diatom genus Mastogloia on sea grass leaves. Diatoms are microalgae which can be found in every habitat where water is present. For her research project, Ocampo collected sea grass from various parts of Guam including sandy beaches and mangrove forests.  

 

MADELINE GONZALEZ 

Integrative biology major Madeline Gonzalez said that the Guam NSF EPSCoR SRE program is a great opportunity to learn new skills and explore careers.  

Under the mentorship of Sarah Lemer, Ph.D., Gonalez studied the phylogeny of Spondylidae, a family of bivalve mollusks.  

“Seeing the real-world applications of what I have been learning in my courses has been exciting.” said Gonzalez. “I’m always looking forward to learning something new – and there is always something new to learn in the lab.”  

 

CASSANDRA PAULE  

During her time in the Guam NSF EPSCoR SRE program, integrative biology major Cassandra Paule studied coral reproduction under the mentorship of Ciemon Caballes, Ph.D. 

“I’m ecstatic to be a part of this research community,” said Paule.  

 

 BRANDON RESPICIO  

Brandon Respicio is a secondary education major with a focus in mathematics who studied under the mentorship of Héloïse Rouzé, Ph.D., during his time in the SRE program.  

Respicio’s project focused on the endolithic algae Ostreobium and the effect it has on the coral species Porites cylindrica. For his study, he compared P. cylindrica from Luminao and Tumon based on the eutrophication levels found in these areas. 

Before his time in the SRE program, Respicio was in the 2022 Guam NSF EPSCoR Summer Math Research Program. During his time in the program, he was able to produce mathematical models based on coral reef dynamics in relation to algae.  

“I enjoyed the research and experience I gained while being a EPSCoR SRE,” Respicio said.  

In October 2023, Respicio’s project won a student poster award at this year’s 2023 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM Conference.  

Guam NSF EPSCoR prepares students for SACNAS conference

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Guam NSF EPSCoR along with the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance Guam Hub held a near peer session on Thursday, October 12, at the University of Guam to prepare their program participants for the upcoming 2023 SACNAS NDISTEM Conference, which took place in Portland, Oregon from October 26 – 28. 

This year, five undergraduate student researchers, four graduate research assistants, and two current summer math research program participants along with one alum from Guam NSF EPSCoR will be a part of a cohort of 34 students from the University of Guam who will attend the conference.  

During the session, undergraduate and graduate student researchers talked about their experiences at past SACNAS conferences and gave advice to those who will attend the event for the first time.  

“Students got into their individualized groups and learned how to better design their posters so that they’re not overwhelming but also still eye-catching,” said Emily Wendte, the Guam NSF EPSCoR Education and Workforce Development program associate. “When it comes to these sessions, we like to incorporate our own culture and identity while also relaying this scientific research in a very credible way.”  
 

With guidance from Guam NSF EPSCOR and NSF INCLUDES staff, students discussed strategies on how to network at conference, entice attendees to visit their poster presentations, and bring their most authentic selves to the event.  

“I really love the community that these near peer sessions have created,” said Wendte. “Students who have been to SACNAs or who have been a world traveler are able to relay tips and information on what to expect and what things will be like. We have some students who have never flown before and they’ve never gone that far. It’s really exciting to take them all the way to Oregon, but also be at a conference that supports who they are and the work that they do.”  

Three new graduate research assistants join Guam NSF EPSCoR  

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Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomed three new graduate research assistants during an orientation held on Thursday, September 7, 2023 at the University of Guam’s School of Business and Public Administration.  

As part of the three-year Graduate Research Assistantship, these students will receive tuition coverage, a salary, as well as mentorship and support over the course of their graduate program as they research crustacean biology, vertebrate morphology, and coral molecular ecology.  

These new GRAs include Diana Noto, Nikko Galanto, and Anela Duenas.  

“It’s always exciting to see the new students. It’s really one of the best products from this program – getting to know the students and learning from them. I hope you all have a great time while in this program,” said Dr. Bastian Bentlage, co-principal investigator of research.   

The new graduate research assistants will have access to near-peer mentorship opportunities to not only learn from others within their community, but also teach undergraduate and high school students over the course of their term.  
 

“During my undergrad, I heard a lot of good things about the GRA program,” said Anela Duenas, one of the new graduate research assistants. “As a student researcher, a GRA named Justin Berg helped me a lot, so I want to do the same for other undergrad students.”  

Math students study the effects of white syndrome diseases on coral 

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Six students presented their research concerning the effects of white syndrome diseases on Guam’s coral populations using mathematical modeling this summer as part of the 2022 Summer Joint Math Research Program showcase held on July 20, 2023.  

The students – four UOG undergraduates, one high schooler, and one recent graduate –  were part of the Guam NSF EPSCoR Summer Math Research Experience held at the University of Guam.  

The Summer Math Research Experience was held concurrently along with the NSA Research Experience for Undergraduates and the Young Scholars Research Experience in Math.  

Due to Typhoon Mawar, the eight-week program was condensed to six weeks this year. Despite the shortened timeframe, the students were able to familiarize themselves with new mathematical concepts and programming tools while helping each other overcome various challenges.  

“They would help each other a lot,” said JC Saul, a Guam NSF EPSCoR research assistant and UOG alum. “Whenever there was a part of the data that didn’t make sense, the other group would try to find out what’s missing. Even though their projects are different, they would still try to help each other.”  

Using data provided by UOG Marine Laboratory Director Dr. Laurie Raymundo, participants focused on modeling the infection rate of white syndrome diseases on coral as well as how factors such as water quality and temperature can impact infected coral.  

White syndrome refers to a group of coral diseases that cause acute tissue loss. During an outbreak of white syndrome, the disease eats away at coral tissue, exposing the white coral skeleton. This disease is different from coral bleaching, white also turns coral white. Coral bleaching stresses the coral, making them more susceptible to disease, but does not immediately kill them.  

“Dr. Raymundo and her team had been monitoring coral restoration plots and they had planted some Acropora aspera in February 2022 and did monthly monitoring. In May 2022, they noticed the plot had contracted white syndrome disease, so they were able to track the progress of the outbreak until unfortunately, everything died by the beginning of August,” said Dr. Leslie Aquino, chair of UOG’s Division of Mathematics & Computer Science.   

Acropora aspera is a species of staghorn coral, a type of reef-building coral that is largely affected by white syndrome diseases.   

“The hopes I have for our project is to bring some attention to coral diseases and the state that corals are in right now,” said Ian Galang, an undergraduate secondary education major with a focus on mathematics. “From what we’ve read, a lot of people misunderstand coral and classify them as nonliving organisms, but they play a very big part of the aquatic environment and right now, they need help.”  

Students make valuable connections through summer program

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Two undergraduate integrative biology majors gained research experience and explored different scientific fields through the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Bridge to Ph.D. Program this summer.

Two undergraduate integrative biology majors gained research experience and explored different scientific fields through the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Bridge to Ph.D. Program this summer.  

The NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Bridge Program aims to enhance participation of students from underrepresented in STEM through opportunities for research experience and mentorship. This year, the program was held from June 26 – 30, 2023 and was hosted by the University of Maryland Center for Marine & Environmental Science.  

“My experience with the Bridge to Ph.D. program was really great, I had so much fun and I met a lot of new people and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to go out there,” said Raianne Quichocho, a 2022 NSF SEAS research fellow.  

Over the course of their trip, they visited the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory at the University of Maryland, toured the Smithsonian Institute, and connected with members other hubs of the NSF SEAS Islands Alliance from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  

“This experience has taught me to not give up on my future as a scientist,” said Lynn Galang, a 2022 Guam NSF EPSCoR student researcher. “Talking to the graduate students has made me realize that even if I’m struggling with chemistry now, it doesn’t mean I’ll struggle with it later.”  

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Over the course of their trip, they visited the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory at the University of Maryland, toured the Smithsonian Institute, and connected with members other hubs of the NSF SEAS Islands Alliance from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “This experience has taught me to not give up on my future as a scientist,” said Lynn Galang, a 2022 Guam NSF EPSCoR student researcher. “Talking to the graduate students has made me realize that even if I’m struggling with chemistry now, it doesn’t mean I’ll struggle with it later.”

UOG grad student talks coral reefs at aquatic sciences conference

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University of Guam graduate biology student and Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant Star Dressler presented her research at the 2023 Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography Aquatic Sciences Meeting held from June 4 – 9, 2023, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

University of Guam graduate biology student and Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant Star Dressler presented her research at the 2023 Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) Aquatic Sciences Meeting held from June 4 – 9, 2023, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.  

ASLO is an organization that fosters a diverse, international scientific community that creates, integrates, and communicates knowledge across the full spectrum of aquatic sciences.  

During the event, Dressler presented her research entitled, “Assessing the heterotrophic abilities of two scleractinian corals during thermal stress as a strategy.”   

“ASLO was awesome,” said Dressler. “I got to interact with scientists from all over the world. It was an oceanography and limnology-based conference, which means it covered both marine and freshwater topics. I was able to not only listen to everyone’s discussions about diverse topics, but also bring attention to coral reefs.”  

Along with her advisor, UOG Associate Professor of Oceanography Atsushi Fujimura,  Dressler also chaired a session called “Resilience in Coral Reef Ecosystems.” The session featured various scientists who discussed advancements in understanding resilience in the world’s coral reef ecosystems across species, population, and community levels.  

“I appreciated being able to connect with different scientists and receive a lot of information in such a short time. I would love to continue being a member of ASLO and going to their conferences,” said Dressler.  

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During the event, Dressler presented her research entitled, “Assessing the heterotrophic abilities of two scleractinian corals during thermal stress as a strategy.” “ASLO was awesome,” said Dressler. “I got to interact with scientists from all over the world. It was an oceanography and limnology-based conference, which means it covered both marine and freshwater topics. I was able to not only listen to everyone’s discussions about diverse topics, but also bring attention to coral reefs.”
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